A Start-Up to Start Things Off

A fitting start to our regional entrepreneur speaker series was had yesterday in class. Al McGuire, of McGuire & Davies Funeral Home and Crematory, addressed the class regarding the ongoing efforts of himself and partner Trevor Davies to start a new business. The company is presently in the very early stages of start-up and is scheduled to begin formal operations from its new facility at 1007 North G Street in Monmouth in the summer of 2013. As Mr. McGuire put it, the firm is “starting from zero.”

Each of our speakers this semester will have an interesting and unique story of their entrepreneurial enterprise. The evolving story of the McGuire & Davies Funeral Home and Crematory is indeed interesting and unique. Both Mr. McGuire and Mr. Davies have extensive experience working for competing Monmouth-based funeral services firms. Recently, the two men decided to “go it on their own,” be their own bosses, and compete against their former employers.

Mr. McGuire addressed many issues of critical relevance to both entrepreneurs and to Midwest Entrepreneurs students. Below, I summarize three key issues discussed in class.

1.  Successful entrepreneurial enterprises are often reflections of the entrepreneur  behind them. Clearly, based on his stated focus on serving customers and responses to  student inquiries yesterday, Mr. McGuire’s company is founded and will be guided by his  empathetic concern for people, community, and spirituality. This concern is, as made  clear by Mr. McGuire in class, extraordinarily important when dealing with grieving and  vulnerable persons as one commonly does in the funeral services industry.

2. Arguably the main source of sustainable competitive advantage for any business— including entrepreneurial firms—is the creation and continual  delivery of superior  value to customers. This is something that I, a marketing professor by training, feature  in all classes I teach here at Monmouth College. When Mr. McGuire was asked by a  member of the class how he plans to compete against he and Mr. Davies’ former  employers—both deeply entrenched, long-time providers of funeral services in the  Monmouth area—his response was, essentially, that he will “out service” them. In other  words, the plan for this new entrepreneurial enterprise is create superior value for  customers by serving their needs, wants, and expectations better than any existing  competitors. This was particularly evident when Mr. McGuire discussed how he will  personally be available to do whatever is needed for customers no matter the time of day  or circumstances. It was also evidenced when he spoke of the goal and purpose of a  “funeral director” as closely listening to customers and then helping direct them to  “where they want to be” with  regard to memorializing and celebrating departed loved  ones (as opposed to simply hard-selling the funeral arrangements that would make him  the most money). Finally, Mr. McGuire discussed how his new firm will provide a  service for which there is growing demand that is not currently offered in the local  marketplace; cremation.

3.  Successful entrepreneurs are risk takers who carefully and consciously take the  right risks. Yes, entrepreneurs take risks. However, not all risks are equally worth  taking. This was evident as Mr. McGuire discussed his reluctance to get involved with  either government grants or well-intentioned individual investors. He and Mr. Davies  have chosen, instead, to rely on local bank financing to get their business up and running.  At the same time, Mr. McGuire realizes that the risk is high. As he put it, “all I own is on  the block.” He is confident that the right risks are being taken and that all external debt— which he abhors—will be paid off in approximately 10 years.

This was a wonderful first guest-speaker class. Thanks to Mr. McGuire for coming and sharing his fledgling firm’s story. Thanks also to the Midwest Entrepreneurs students for their active involvement in discussion of issues raised by Mr. McGuire. Many relevant questions were asked and I expect this to continue as the semester—and our speaker series—progresses. Student comments to this blog—or other comments regarding Mr. McGuire’s presentation—are welcome.

Tomorrow in class we are scheduled to have a speaker whose entrepreneurial company and career is near the opposite end of the “life cycle spectrum” when compared to the McGuire & Davies Funeral Home and Crematory. Our guest will be Mr. John Twomey, who, after more than 60 years of running a network of regional agricultural businesses, recently sold his firm to Consolidated Grain and Barge, Inc.

I hope to see you in class tomorrow for what is sure to be another interesting and unique entrepreneurial story and discussion.

Best regards,

Prof. Gabel

Welcome to the Midwest Entrepreneurs Blog!

Hello and Welcome to the Midwest Entrepreneurs Blog!

I have been excited about the opportunity to run this blog and teach the BUSI 350 – Midwest Entrepreneurs class since hearing about it last semester; my first semester here at Monmouth College. I am originally from the southeastern Iowa town of Keokuk and this is a homecoming for me (after being out of the area since the late 1980s). This class–and this blog as a part of it–will help reintegrate me into the local and regional business marketplace via interaction with many successful businesspeople (and helping students learn from them).

In this introductory blog entry, I have two goals. The first is to introduce our first speaker of the semester. Scheduled to speak to the class today in McMike 308 at 4:00 pm is Al McGuire who, after working for many years for a local funeral services firm, is  opening a new business in Monmouth to compete with his former employer. Mr. McGuire will have a partner in the new venture, Trevor Davies, also a veteran of the local funeral services industry (with another firm). Thus, the short story behind the start of this new entrepreneurial venture, is that we have two former employees of two different funeral services firms who have decided to “go it on their own” and be their own bosses. The presentation today should add many interesting details to this story of entrepreneurism. Hope top see you there!

The second goal of this introductory blog is to reiterate–and add to–some of the points that Dr. Mike Connell and I have been making in class lectures the first two weeks of the semester. I do this from a context not explicitly discussed in class so far; the online world of connectivity. Please find below a link to an NPR “On Being” interview I listened to this past weekend with internet entrepreneur and best-selling author Seth Godin.


In the interview, Mr. Godin talks about many things that are of major relevance not only to today’s entrepreneur—albeit mainly in the business-to-consumer marketplace—but also with regard to how to view and conduct marketing (and, more broadly, an entrepreneurial business). Much of the ideas expressed are also highly consistent with the views of business and how it should be conducted held by the Department of Political Economy & Commerce (PEC) here at Monmouth College. I summarize a few of the key issues from the interview below.

1. Marketing and business is not a matter of forcing things on others, but rather understanding and then creatively–even artistically–meeting needs, wants, and expectations. The creative and artistic perspective applies potentially to everyone. The key is knowing people and then creatively solving their problems in new and interesting ways that create value. Having been around the country as I have, I assure you that this “business as creative art” thinking is not the way that many Colleges of Business view business. However, it is very consistent with the way business and commerce is viewed and taught here in the PEC Department.

2. Today’s unprecedented level of mainly technology-driven change means unprecedented levels of opportunity for innovation and personal success.

3. Learning from failure is an absolute necessity. As Godin puts it, “no does not mean no,” it means “no for now and that you should learn for next time.” As was discussed in class the last two weeks, successful entrepreneurs do not give up easily and must get used to people telling them that their ideas do not make sense.

4. Key hurdles to innovation include fear of failure and cultural pressure to conform and exhibit, as Godin puts it, “cog-like obedience.” As discussed in class these last two weeks, entrepreneurs are often anti-conformists bucking the status quo who see things differently; often in the form of seeing better ways to solve problems for other people and organizations.

5. Entrepreneurial success is seldom a matter of maximizing sales, market share, or profits. As discussed in class, while entrepreneurs are typically obsessed with succeeding, success is often not defined in terms of sales and profits.

6. You must have faith in yourself and goals and have the courage to do it and inspire others to do it as well. Aim high to solve problems for others in a positive manner.

7. Connectivity is key; connect with people on the basis of creating something meaningful and of value to them.

That raps up my first blog entry for the Spring 2013 semester. Look for at least two entries each week from here on out. We plan to have two entrepreneurial speakers from the local and regional marketplace each week. I will be blogging after each presentation and students will be joining in the on the discussion (for class credit). This should be a very interesting semester in Midwest Entrepreneurs class.


Terrance G. Gabel, Ph.D.